General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 27 Feb 2021/4 Dog
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Mexicolore contributor George Frey

Balamkanché, Altar of the Jaguar Priest, Part Two

This is the second part of the article by George Fery (freelance writer-photographer of pre-Columbian history and archaeological sites of Mexico and the Americas) on the sacred underground cave of Balamkanché.

Pic 1: Cha’ak (God.B) – Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City
Pic 1: Cha’ak (God.B) – Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Ethnographic accounts throughout Mesoamerica document miniature objects as offerings, often associated with rain-making rituals. Young children, particularly girls, were favored by Tlaloc. The presence of spindle whorls underlines the symbolic significance of weaving that has been documented to be associated with females and with Chak’Chel (“great rainbow” or “red rainbow”), the aged goddess of curing and childbirth, in Classic times. She is also known as the youthful Ix Chel (“ady rainbow”), from her shrines on the islands of Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Chak’Chel and Ix Chel were also respectively associated with the waning moon and the rising moon.

Pic 2: Group IIIb – The Water Chamber
Pic 2: Group IIIb – The Water Chamber (Click on image to enlarge)

The “Waterway” or Group.IIIb is now mostly flooded, because it is located close to the top of the water table. The underground lake extends about 115 feet from the shore, then dips below the ceiling of the cave and turns northeast for another 330 feet, before rising again above the water table and reaching Group.IV, inaccessible today.
Investigators found ceramics and stone censers in the water and on limestone outcrops in this part of the cave. At the end of the elongated lake is a chamber that seems to be the limit of human penetration in this direction. The average depth is five feet with about half that depth in mud. On the muddy floor of the waterway were scattered offerings, such as Tlaloc effigy censers, studded censers and a variety of pottery offerings, with a distribution densest near the shore (Andrews, 1970:12-13). It is probable that the chamber at the end of the waterway was used for specific rituals. The data is insufficient and does not yet allow for a coherent hypothesis on this part of the cave.

Pic 3: Group.2a – Altar of the Pristine Waters
Pic 3: Group.2a – Altar of the Pristine Waters (Click on image to enlarge)

As mentioned above, long before Tlaloc, Balamkanché was used for the same purposes by its first tenant, the Maya Cha’ak. The cave was “returned” to the Maya deity during a complex and elaborate ritual ceremony, the “Reverent Message to the Lords”, which started on the early hours of October 13, 1959. Gifts of {italibalché (grain alcohol), sacrifice of live fowls, the lighting of candles, together with rituals and incantations were directed by master h’men or shamans from villages in the vicinity of the cave. The ceremonies and ancient rituals took place over three days and nights to pacify the deities, the Yum Balames “to safely allow non-Maya to enter the hallowed precinct during the ceremony” (Andrews, 1970:72-79).

Pic 4: World Above and World Below
Pic 4: World Above and World Below (Click on image to enlarge)

Pyramids were perceived as representations of the “world above”, and counter images of caves, the “world below” sanctuaries of the endless cycle of life and death. Each morning the rays of the sun, coming out of its travel in the “world below” as the Black Sun, lit the top of the pyramid first, as the blessing of Culture by Nature. An event that was believed to sanctify the powers vested in the lords and the priests by the gods.
For the Maya, as well as for most cultures of the Americas, caves were believed to be the cradle of humans at the beginning of time. Furthermore, they were perceived as guardians of the mother of all life forms, water. Caves were known to be the “world below” where humans return at the end of their days. Ancestors dwelling in caves were trusted to interact with gods and deities for the “world above.” No less than the sacred earth, caves were recognized as the meeting ground between humans and the divine.

Pic 5: Group.2b – Collecting Zuihá, the pristine waters
Pic 5: Group.2b – Collecting Zuihá, the pristine waters (Click on image to enlarge)

Balankanche, Throne of the Tiger Priest – E. Willys Andrews.IV – MARI-Middle American Research Institute at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, 1970
The Ancient Maya – Sharer & Traxler, Standford U. Press, Stanford, CA, 1994.
Chichén Itzá – Román Piña Chan, Fondo de Cultura Econòmica, Mexico,1980
The Chilam Balam of Chumayel – Ralph Roy, University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

Picture sources:-
• All photos © George Fery/, except -
• Pic 3 (part 1): ©, authorization on file
• Pic 13 (part 1): © E. Willis Andrews IV in MARI-Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA – 1970, on file
• Pic 18 (part 1): photo from Twitter.

Author’s Note:-
In (link below) are long-form articles of research papers on the history of the Americas, that focus on Maya and other cultures before 1492. In (link below) are George’s own photos of Mesoamerican, Central American and South American sites. To access, click on “portfolio”; for more information click on “meet George”. Contact the author at: and

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Apr 17th 2020

Learn about a recent investigation of the caves of Balamku, the ‘mother’ of Balamkanché
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